Chinese President Xi Jinping isn’t headed to Donald Trump’s ornate Mar-a-Lago property just yet to talk trade.
The U.S. president told reporters Thursday afternoon he is not ready to invite the Chinese leader to his South Florida resort to try and finalize a trade pact because the two economic giants are not close enough to an agreement to bring in — in baseball terms — the closers.
“If we have a deal, we’ll have a summit,” Trump said in the Oval Office as he met with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who is in Washington for another round of talks about the potential deal. The New York Times and Washington Post reported earlier in the day that Trump would make an announcement about a Xi summit during his meeting with Liu.
But a source with knowledge of the situation told Roll Call around midday that those reports were inaccurate.
A U.S.-China trade deal has a “very, very good chance of happening,” according to Trump. He listed “intellectual property protection and theft” and “certain tariffs” as the remaining sticking points, and said it should be clear in about four weeks if the countries can reach a deal.
“It is very important that certain elements of the tariffs … [are] in discussion right now. We have a number of [unresolved] things. … We have agreed to far more than we have left to agree to,” he said.
The talks have progressed well enough that Trump in late February delayed a March 1 deadline for an agreement that was supposed to hike tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent.
The Trump administration and Chinese officials have been discussing a trade pact for several years, with White House aides saying until late last year that Beijing had not budged much on major issues.
But in a West Wing focused on helping the president declare victory on any given issue, that has started to change.
“We’re gaining, we’re making headway. We’ve made some more headway this week,” White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Wednesday. “I think the Chinese have acknowledged these problems for the first time. They were in denial.”
Kudlow was referring to a list of issues on which the administration has tried to steer the talks, including the forced transfer of technology from U.S. companies, denial of intellectual property rights for American firms, hacking operations by Chinese entities, and others.
“We are deep into discussions. Nobody’s come close to this. He’s the first president,” Kudlow said, eager to paint Trump’s hard-line policies on China as effective. “It’s worked in the sense that it has certainly brought them to the table.”
Chinese officials have made a number of appearances in the Oval Office in recent months as negotiators have ferried between Washington and China for talks. In January, a senior official from Beijing surprised the Trump administration by announcing plans to increase purchases of American soybeans.
Senior Trump aides acknowledged that the Chinese delegation sprung the news on them only moments before the meeting, and there was no plan to make the announcement when reporters were allowed into part of that Jan. 31 session.
The announcement set off confusion inside the West Wing, with senior aides initially unsure whether the Chinese official indicated his government would increase its daily buys of U.S. soybeans to 5 million bushels or “tons,” as Trump himself said after the official made the announcement while seated across from the president at his customary seat behind the Resolute Desk.
A Trump official — hours later — was finally able to clarify that the “Chinese will purchase 5 million MT of soybeans,” using shorthand for metric tons.
Trump sidestepped a question about whether he would order the IRS chief to comply with a House committee’s demands for his tax returns. “They’ll speak to my lawyers, and they’ll speak to the attorney general,” he said. Democrats and other critics have panned Trump for, in their view, considering Attorney General William P. Barr one of his personal lawyers.
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